Expert care for liver transplants
The liver transplant surgeons at Scripps are among the most experienced in the region, providing the highest-quality, most advanced care possible with liver transplant success rates above the US expected average. Our team of transplant surgeons and specialists provides compassionate care to adults with:
- Acute and chronic liver failure
- Liver cancer, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
- Hepatitis C
- Biliary stricture
- Portal hypertension
- Other complex disorders that involve the liver, gallbladder or bile ducts
Understanding your liver transplant
Your liver performs hundreds of functions each day to help detoxify your blood, aid in digestion and absorb nutrients. When liver diseases — such as chronic liver failure, liver cancer, cirrhosis or hepatitis C — damage the liver, a liver transplant could be a treatment option if you meet medical liver transplant criteria.
A liver transplant is a complex procedure. It involves replacing a damaged lobe (part) of your liver or your entire liver with one from a donor. To determine if a liver transplant will be a safe and beneficial treatment option for your acute liver disease, you must first:
- Receive health insurance clearance
- Meet with a transplant coordinator
- Attend a transplant education class
- Complete all necessary blood and other laboratory tests
- Undergo a thorough medical evaluation
Once this process is completed, if you qualify for a liver transplant, you’ll be placed on the local and national liver transplant surgery waiting list. For more information on what to expect, review the liver transplant FAQs below.
Frequently asked questions about liver transplantation
If you need a liver transplant, you may have many questions about the procedure and what to expect. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about liver transplantation. Always feel free to ask your physician or care team for more information and guidance.
What is a liver transplant?
A liver transplant is a surgical procedure that places a healthy liver from a deceased or live donor into a person whose liver is failing and can no longer function properly. When the liver comes from a live donor, part of the donor’s liver is removed and transplanted to replace the failing liver. Because the liver regenerates, the donor’s liver eventually returns to its normal size after a living donor liver transplant.
Why is a liver transplant necessary?
When will I be placed on the liver transplant wait list?
After you have completed the necessary medical tests and received insurance approval for a liver transplant, the transplant selection committee at Scripps will review the results ensure it is safe for you to undergo transplant surgery. At that time, you will be placed on the wait list for a liver donation.
Why are there so many tests?
The tests are part of the evaluation process and are required to make sure you meet important liver transplant criteria and it is safe for you to receive a transplant. For example, if you were found to have heart disease during your evaluation, you may need a new medication or procedure before it would be safe for your heart to undergo transplant surgery.
How long will it take to complete the tests?
The entire evaluation process may take from one month to several months, depending on your condition and how quickly you can complete the necessary tests.
How long will I have to wait for a liver transplant?
Several factors determine how long you will need to wait for your liver transplant, including:
- How quickly you complete the evaluation testing
- The results of your evaluation testing
- Whether you have other medical conditions that require a waiting period, such as cancer treatment
- Your blood type (certain blood types typically wait longer than others)
- How your immune system reacts to cells or organs from other individuals
- How long you have been on the wait list
If the liver is coming from a cadaveric (deceased) donor, patients generally may wait months to years for a transplant. For patients with a living donor, the wait can be significantly shorter because they need to wait only as long as it takes to complete both their evaluation and that of their donor (usually a few months).
How long will the transplanted liver last?
In most cases, the new liver should last for the rest of your life. However, several factors may affect this timeframe, including:
- Recurrence of the disease that damaged your original liver
- Rejection of the new liver by your immune system
- Reaction to a medication you are taking
Fortunately, in most cases these problems can be treated.
What are immunosuppression medications?
When you first go home after your transplant, you will need to take approximately 10 to 12 new medications. These medications lower or “suppress” your immune system, so that it will accept a liver from someone else. Without these medications, your immune system would reject and attack your new liver. Immunosuppression medications have a number of side effects, including raising your risk of certain infections. Some patients cannot take traditional steroid-based drugs for immunosuppression. These patients may qualify for steroid-free immunosuppression.
Will I have to take immunosuppression medications for the rest of my life?
Over time, your transplant physician will reduce the number of medications you take, but you will need to take some immunosuppression medications for life.
How long will my recovery take?
You will be in the hospital for about a week after liver transplant surgery. When you go home, you will need help taking care of yourself. If you are an out-of-town patient, you will need to plan to stay locally following your transplant for as long as your physician recommends. For the first four to six weeks, you must avoid lifting anything heavier than a phone book.
How soon can I get back to my normal life?
Most patients can get back to a relatively normal life about three months after a liver transplant. It will probably be two to three months before you are ready to drive, and probably three to six months before you are ready to go back to work. Some patients recover quickly, and some need more time. Your recovery also will depend on how ill you were before your transplant and whether you have any complications after the liver transplant surgery. Your transplant team can answer questions about activities during recovery.
Our approach to transplants
At Scripps, we treat the person, not the illness. Our patient-centered approach combines a multidisciplinary team with the most advanced treatments and technology available in San Diego and beyond.
Your transplant care team
In addition to our surgical expertise, our strengths include a broad range of medical and support services, such as our multidisciplinary team of caregivers, including:
- Transplant coordinators
- Financial coordinators
- Social workers
- Transplant dietitians
Your transplant care team will be your partner before, during and after the liver transplant surgery and beyond. We’ll work closely with your insurance carrier, referring primary care physician, hepatologist and other specialists involved in your care to ensure all of your health care needs are addressed with efficiency and compassion.
The Scripps transplant team is composed of an established, multidisciplinary panel of surgeons and hepatologists who are nationally recognized as leaders in their field at the forefront of the latest advancements and treatment options.
Our patient and graft survival rates continue to remain above the national expected average, and we outperform our regional competitors in shorter lengths of stay.
This team is complemented by a comprehensive medical staff specially trained to care for transplant patients, and provides the full range of services our patients need to be successful.
Our approach to medical care ensures that all of our patients receive treatment plans that are customized to their individual needs. For example, patients who cannot take traditional steroid-based drugs to prevent organ rejection following a transplant may qualify for steroid-free immunosuppression.
Clinical research for transplantation
In order to discover new treatment options and better transplant methods, our physicians participate in a variety of research activities.
View our list of active clinical trials at Scripps Health.
Support groups for transplant patients and caregivers
Our program provides free, monthly support groups for organ transplant patients and their families. The groups are designed to share coping strategies, express frustrations and concerns, as well as share hope and support.
Liver and kidney transplant support group
For those considering transplant, in evaluation for transplant, waiting for transplant or those who have had a transplant, we offer a support group on the first Wednesday of every month from 6–8 pm. Transplant Education and Support Groups
Patient support and resources
Scripps offers a wide range of supportive services to meet the specialized needs of transplant patients and their loved ones, including support groups and educational classes. Learn more about the support and resources you have access to at Scripps. Our inspirational transplant patient success stories are another great resource to learn more about the supportive, life-affirming aspects of Scripps transplant services and care.